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Yes, cuban rice and beans is usually cooked with meat... or at the very least with the broth of it. If I'm cooking for a vegetarian I don't know, should I avoid the meat broth? Is there anything vegetarian that would give an equivalent flavour?

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Keep in mind that if possible, the best approach is to just ask your vegetarian friend. There are a lot of people with a lot of different diets, and no one here can really tell you for sure what a single vegetarian person prefers. –  Jefromi May 28 at 18:50
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I've edited your question to try to avoid getting into too much debate, since we're not really in the business of telling you what other people will and won't eat. (I wish it weren't necessary, but welcome to the internet.) –  Jefromi May 29 at 0:30
    
@Jefromi, Thanks for your comment! I'm having too much fun with this and comming back to pick up the mushrooms cooking suggestion. My friend can actually eat fish, and that will be one of the dishes. But I think that mushrooms are entirely appropriate for the rice.... I was a bit set aback for the extra-work, but now I reckon that I will have backup dishes in case something goes wrong... –  dsign May 29 at 16:26
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Ah, cool - then keep in mind shrimp/fish stock too, for dishes where that'll work! –  Jefromi May 29 at 18:17
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5 Answers 5

up vote 21 down vote accepted

People choose to eat vegetarian diets for a number of reasons. Not only might the flavor offend your guest, but it may cause them to be physically ill.

You can substitute vegetable stock or broth for the meat products you are accustomed to using.

Mushrooms lend a meaty flavor to dishes they are used in and could potentially be used to replace your meat. I would suggest cooking them separately first to draw out the moisture, then adding them to the beans near the end of the cooking process so they soak up some of the flavors and have a chance to marry. Remember mushrooms are little culinary sponges. They will take flavors and run with them, adding their own earthy notes in the process. Search for vegetarian rice and beans dishes to get an idea of the possibilities here.

From an etiquette standpoint, you may want to avoid the temptation to apologize to your other guests for having to make a veggie substitution as that would be a quick ticket towards alienating your vegetarian pal. I only mention that because some people don't think about things like that and I have a few friends who are on restrictive diets. They are sometimes embarrassed when people go out of their way to make menu changes for them.

Another alternative altogether is to find a way to prepare two versions of the dish. Meaning, you could use meat as you are accustomed to but leave a portion of the food vegetarian. When it's practical I like this option a lot. It just comes with the downside of increased cleanup and stovetop logistics issues.

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I would also add that an apology is unnecessary because your guests probably won't realize that you used vegetable broth unless you tell them. –  sourd'oh May 28 at 19:12
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+1 for mushrooms, the "meat vegetable". Mushroom stock would be a very appropriate substitution here. –  logophobe May 28 at 19:44
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@dsign Most packaged mushroom broths won't specify. If you make your own, there's really no reason to use anything expensive. Dried mushrooms are okay for broth, fresh better for sauteing. Criminis and portobellos tend to have a more meaty flavor than their immature white cousins, but portobellos will generally cost more. Save the specialties like morels for another application. –  logophobe May 28 at 19:57
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@PrestonFitzgerald I noticed that too. You owe me a mushroom. –  logophobe May 28 at 20:03
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Second the comment about "may cause them to be physically ill". I have a friend who's been vegetarian long enough that she has lost the ability to metabolize some animal products. A tiny bit of lard in a cookie is enough to send her gut into spasms -- and yes, there have been enough inadvertent double-blind tests to prove that this is physical, not psychological. On the other hand, poultry doesn't cause that reaction (though she avoids it), and she considers most smaller fish dumb enough to be virtual vegetables. All of which goes back to "If in doubt, ask the guest for guidance." –  keshlam May 29 at 2:40
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The answer to this is yes: avoid meat-based broth. From a dietary perspective, meat is unsettling to the stomach of a long-time vegetarian, and quite possibly repulsive, and the fact that it's broth (and thus, perhaps, "not really meat") is not the kind of call you want to make on behalf of someone who defines their own dietary restriction.

I have had personal experience with this from two angles: first, I once cooked for a vegetarian friend and had the foresight to ask this question of her, and she thanked me for it, because she had had to refuse food in the past because someone figured "it's just broth; that's okay, right?" It was not okay. And second, my family now includes several long-time vegetarians who say that meat is, at best, weird, and sometimes nauseating just to smell.

Occasionally I do make food that ought to taste like meat, which I try to mock up with particularly savory spices. A small amount of hot spicy Hungarian paprika is surprisingly effective at conveying the main aspect of meat's taste, at least in a soup where the main flavor is supposed to be something else. I imagine it would work with a beans and rice dish. I would agree with Preston Fitzgerald's suggestion of mushrooms, too; even better, if you can use a mushroom broth, since despite optimistic claims, mushrooms themselves are not a good substitute for the tactile experience of meat. Add a little extra saltiness to enhance these flavors (but not to the point of making the dish actually very salty, of course, and since you mention dietary restrictions, that's another one to watch for).

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Thanks for your answer :-) ... I'm specially wary of the part related to the smell. But to be honest, I don't want to spoil the dinner to the non-vegetarians in it :-)... so, I will go the extra-mile, and ensure that there is enough fresh clean air around just in case... –  dsign May 29 at 7:31
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While some vegetarians wouldn't mind, most would so you are better off avoiding any meat. There are probably vegetarian stock options which you could use instead, I'd recommend using those to be sure.

If it were me I would look to add depth of flavor in vegetarian acceptable ways. Caramelization of sugars is a good way and can be achieved by sauteeing or roasting vegetable, and perhaps frying the rice before cooking.

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Vegetarians do not eat meat or things made from meat. Meat stock is made from meat. Do not put it in food for vegetarians. End of.

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I agree that you have to assume they don't want to eat it, but you're definitely oversimplifying, which I think makes your point much less convincing. Sometimes the vegetarian in question is actually fine eating things like chicken broth, but there's not a word for "vegetarian except for chicken broth", so they just approximate and say "I'm a vegetarian". And you haven't addressed the other part of the question, what to substitute. –  Jefromi May 29 at 0:28
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This is all true, it amounts to whether the questioner's friend is a vegetarian or merely someone who calls themselves a vegetarian to prevent their meat arriving in large lumps ;-p As a matter of labelling, a dish containing meat broth is not vegetarian and shouldn't be given to someone requesting vegetarian food. As to the questioner's friend, sure, ask them specifically what their diet is. So bear in mind that many actual vegetarians find it fairly tiresome to be asked, "oh, but do you eat chicken/fish/stock/ham?". "No", they think, "I told you I'm vegetarian, and I was telling the truth." –  Steve Jessop May 29 at 11:57
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Many people avoid meat on moral grounds; many others avoid certain types of meat on religious grounds. You could risk really offending someone.

If you want to add that meaty background taste you can try soy sauce, but sparingly, and maybe add less salt.

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Thanks for the soy sauce suggestion! I will use it next time! –  dsign May 29 at 16:27
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